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Report back from #MillionsMarchNYC

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I’ll try to give a detailed run-down of my day at the #MillionsMarchNYC with a minimum of opinion. For background or analysis you will have to look elsewhere (I plan to write on this in the next week).

The march left Washington Square Park at 2:00pm. Nine and half hours later, at 11:30 that night, I finally stopped marching.

Leaving Washington Square Park through its famous arches, the march moved up 5th Ave at a crawl. There were still tens of thousands of people in the park and the march extended as far as I could see ahead. Two blocks north, my friend and I noticed there was a march running parallel to us on University Place. We climbed over the metal barricades lining 5th avenue and joined the parallel march. There was a full orchestra, complete with their own dance troupe weaving through traffic. It was extremely festive; many of the drivers stuck in their cars honked their horns to the orchestra’s rhythm. It was surreal to see the full band weaving through the stalled cars of downtown Manhattan. The orchestra eventually turned east on 14th street and joined the much denser crowd of the main march there.

All along the pre-approved route metal barricades lined the sidewalks, keeping the marchers in the street and on the route. The crowd moved slowly. When we reached 32nd street, which was supposed to be where we turned around and headed back downtown, a group unhooked the barricades and pushed them aside. As the police tried to close the opening a few hundred people rushed out. Part of this group was the “anarchist bloc” and a handful of people were dragging whatever they could into the road. Construction barricades, traffic cones and a lot of garbage cans lined the streets in our wake, creating a patchwork of barricades. When we were walking down Madison Avenue, amid the stalled traffic was a lone police car. A crowd gathered around. One person dumped garbage on the car. Another kicked in the brake lights and everyone started running. I was following a few paces behind to begin with and never gave chase; instead I turned again and rejoined the main march, which was now moving down Broadway.

When we finally arrived at One Police Plaza, the official end point, people started splitting off in different directions. I think many went home, but many others still wanted to march. The police blocked access south, toward the Brooklyn Bridge and people were heading west. The group I joined did a large loop around City Hall to come out behind the police lines and walked up the onramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. There were a few police but they didn’t try to stop us, they even blocked traffic coming from other on-ramps for us. At various points the march stopped to gather everyone and mic-check.

My favorite chant from the day, which I think summed up everything quite well, was a twist on a familiar call and response:

What do we want? Justice

When do we want it? Now

What do we want? Justice

When do we want it? Now

And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!

If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

If – We – Don’t – Get – It? Shut – It – Down!

 

A large group of riot police were waiting for us on the other end but only to make sure we didn’t turn left at the first exit ramp. For some reason they wanted us to take the long way off the bridge, and that was just fine with us.

Once in Brooklyn we set out for the Barclays Center, walking against traffic. There were perhaps 700 people in the group but spread out between the cars we stretched back a couple of blocks. The majority of the motorists found ways to show their support, even though we were temporarily stopping them on their way. Many honked their horns in rhythm, others gave thumbs up, and quite a few rolled down their windows and stuck out their hand, giving high-fives to everyone that passed.

What do we want? Justice

When do we want it? Now

And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!

We received word that another, larger group, was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge so we stopped often to try and let them catch up. Just short of the Barclays Center we did a die-in across the intersection. In nine and half hours of constant marching, the longest break I took was laying down in the road of what was normally a busy intersection.

Our numbers were dropping as we marched through Brooklyn and many people slipped into the subway once we reached the Barclays Center. There were around 400 people left when the second group joined us. There were 3,000 to 5,000 in the new group and they gave us an immediate jolt of energy. I heard from people in that group that the police initially tried to stop them from marching over the bridge—which seemed strange considering they let us, a much smaller group, go without any resistance.

We marched throughout Brooklyn, now thousands strong. A hundred police cars with their lights flashing followed behind and a few dozen officers walked to our side but never tried to stop us. We walked down Eastern Parkway for a while, occasionally stopping to sit across the roadway for a few minutes at a time and the police stopped with us.

What do we want? Justice

When do we want it? Now

And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!

After much zigging and zagging we arrived in East New York. The streets became much more residential and there was almost no car traffic, but a lot of people came out to their balconies to cheer us on and some of them threw on winter coats and joined the crowd as it snaked through their neighborhood. The march was heading for the Pink Houses, a housing project where an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer last month. The numbers had slowly been dropping, but when I got on the subway at 11:30pm there were still a thousand people marching with new energy from the people who had streamed out of their houses along the way.

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